Lambton County Council doesn’t want masks to be mandatory when people are indoors and unable to physically distance from others.
But council voted today to “support and encourage” mask use to help stop the spread of COVID-19 under those circumstances.
Canadian public health officials and the World Health Organization (WHO) say a non-medical mask or face covering can reduce the spread of a person’s own infectious respiratory droplets.
Mayor Mike Bradley debated hard to convince his fellow councillors, who represent Sarnia-Lambton’s 11 municipalities, to vote in favour of mandatory mask use. A second wave is inevitable and mask use could help flatten the curve, he argued.
“The last 111 days have been very difficult for all of us,” Bradley said. “(But) the real storm is coming. We need to be proactive and I believe lives will be saved.”
He urged county council to take the same position as councils in Toronto, Ottawa, Windsor and London and make indoor mask use mandatory under certain circumstances if people can’t be sure they can stay two metres apart.
Bradley’s motion to make masks mandatory was lost in a 13-4 vote.
Most county councillors agreed with Dr. Sudit Ranade, Lambton’s Medical Officer of Health, who said non-medical masks can be part of “the tool kit” in fighting the virus but he does not believe they should be mandatory at this time.
“If the evidence or circumstances change, I may change my mind,” Dr. Ranade said at county council’s Wednesday meeting online.
A second motion from Point Edward Mayor Bev Hand to encourage mask use was seconded by Sarnia Coun. Mike Stark and echoed Dr. Ranade’s opinion. It passed in a 13-4 vote.
Those not in favour of encouraging mask use were Sarnia Councillors Dave Boushy and Margaret Bird, as well as Oil Springs Mayor Ian Veen and Warwick Mayor Jackie Rombouts.
Coun. Bird said she is concerned about protecting the rights of people who cannot wear masks for medical reasons. Some with asthma, claustrophobia and other conditions are very uncomfortable with masks and shouldn’t have to deal with social pressure to wear them, Bird said.
Mayor Rombouts said she is concerned masks give a false sense of security and encourage people to interact closer together.
She asked Dr. Ranade if a mask will stop the virus if a person has COVID-19 and coughs or sneezes in a group setting.
“That person shouldn’t be there,” Dr. Ranade answered. “If you are ill, you should self isolate.”
However, if someone is asymptomatic and doesn’t know they are carrying the virus, a mask could be helpful in stopping the transmission of some of the droplets, he said. “Not 100%, but helpful.”
Dr. Ranade also updated county council on the status of COVID-19 in Sarnia-Lambton.
There have been no COVID-19 deaths in over a month, although 25 people have died There are currently only two active cases.
Sarnia-Lambton is in Stage 2 of reopening with the rest of the province. Some health officials are suggesting that Ontario will be ready for Stage 3 in late July and all workplaces will reopen.
“We are doing quite well in Lambton County,” Dr. Ranade said. “We have no new cases today, others are resolving and there are no institutional outbreaks.
“Things are settling down,” he said. “It’s very reassuring.”